This question is really a two part question.
THE FIRST QUESTION THAT IS REALLY BEING ASKED
Is it ethical to treat save one patient at the inevitable loss of another, even if treating both both patients greatly reduces the chance of either patient surviving?
This is a tough question. You really have only two ways to go about it. You can be idealistic, or pragmatic. If there is only a 3 percent chance of survival per patient if they are both treated, that gives us a 6 percent chance that either one will survive. There is a possibility that both will survive but it is extremely small. An idealist would say both patients should be given an equal opportunity to survive. This would be fair. A pragmatist would typically choose which patient to save, since this guarantees the treatment won't be wasted. Which leads us to the second question ...
THE SECOND QUESTION THAT IS REALLY BEING ASKED
Who to save?
I would say there isn't enough information here to make a good decision. As someone who has done 6 months in jail, it goes without saying I'm not here to pass judgements on someone simply because the State or Federal government has seen it fit to incarcerate them.
Was the convict imprisoned for a violent crime? How has he behaved in prison? Was he even guilty of the crime he was convicted of committing?
You say the 90 year old is wise. Has he already written books to share the wealth of knowledge he's gained? Is he suffering from severe dementia and unable to communicate?
to the first question would be that it is ok to choose one patient over another. I would like to think of myself as an idealist, and if the treatment reduced the chance of survival to 50, or even 30 percent a patient I would certainly want to do the fair thing and give both patients equal treatment. What I could not do is sit back with the likelihood that both patients will die.
-- Thu Sep 08, 2011 3:07 pm --
Also, if a doctor approached me and gave me a choice between
A) Sharing a treatment with another patient that will give us each a 3% chance of survival
B) Flipping a coin with another patient and having a 50% chance at guaranteed survival, it would be a no-brainer. I think if both patients were presented with this choice they would choose the coin toss, as it not only gives them a real shot at survival but guarantees that SOMEONE will survive.
As for who should be saved ...
IF the con is not a rapist or a murderer I would lean toward saving him. 90 is well past the life-expectancy these days and our old man will likely die soon anyway. Hopefully our con won't go back to prison.